For the first time in 25 years, the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) issued a strike in the Chicago public schools. Teachers walked out this past Monday in efforts to hopefully obtain a fair contract. As a Chicago school teacher in the Catholic school system, this strike did not directly affect me. However, the battle that the CTU has undertaken to obtain fair pay for teachers and a fair evaluation system that does not use students’ standardized test scores as a means of evaluation are certainly issues that are important to me and will have an impact nationwide.
(I do have a bit of an issue with their gripes surrounding increased pay, since I am a Catholic school teacher and make approximately $40,000 less than the average pay of about $71,000 of a CPS teacher. And that’s with a Master’s degree and 6 years of experience. So I’d rather not argue about the salary issue, although that’s not the real issue in the negotiations anyway.)
The real issue is the teacher evaluation system. President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative called for states to implement new teacher evaluation tools that relied heavily on students’ standardized test scores as a means of indicating a quality teacher. While test scores can certainly give some indication of the quality of a teacher, they are not the whole story. As a teacher in the inner city, I teach students who live in impoverished, single-parent homes with little to no parental support. Many of my colleagues in the public schools have the same types of kids sitting in their classrooms. How can we expect our students to have time to study at night if they are constantly dealing with gang violence and shootings in their neighborhood? Chicago has the distinction of being one of e most violent cities in America, so I’m not making this violence up. It is real and raw. We struggle to keep kids awake and fed in our schools and we teach them to the best of our abilities. My kids are struggling learners who do poorly on standardized tests that aren’t written for urban, inner-city kids. If we truly want to use test scores to measure teacher performance, then we need a Department of Education that will overhaul our testing system, write tests that are relatable to inner-city life (no more questions about fishing, please!), and work with our city governments to seriously put an end to non-stop violence in our neighborhoods, so our kids have the opportunity to learn.
We need a government that will take education seriously and work to fix the underlying problems, such as poverty, violence, homelessness, and broken schools. Only then can we truly improved educational opportunities for all our students, the ones in inner-city Chicago and the ones on Chicago’s Gold Coast.